Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sermon -- Advent Vespers (December 12, 2012).

LUKE 11:17-20
THY KINGDOM COME…
…To Put Down the Devil’s Kingdom.

     The Lord has taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  But if the Lord’s kingdom must come to us, that means that we are not automatically in it.  And that is, indeed, the case.  The world is the LORD’s…and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1), but Satan seized it back in the Garden of Eden.  Once he coaxed Adam and Eve into defying God’s will and into doing his bidding, the devil laid claim to this world.  All people are conceived and born in sin – with hearts and minds bent on wickedness.  We are the devil’s offspring and we do the devil’s works.  That is not a flattering image, and it is a wretched judgment, but it is what the Lord says: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8) 
     We have made a practice of sinning.  In fact, we cannot stop ourselves from sinning.  Our selfishness affects our actions and our love grows cold.  Our jealousy affects our thoughts and we assign the worst motives to others.  Our bitterness affects our words and we speak with condescension and sarcasm – “Hello!?”  We live in a world which shows little patience, kindness, and mercy, and we have adopted its practice.  We do not follow God’s will, and it steams us when God demands that we must.  We do not want God to be God to us.  We want him to answer to us.  This is precisely what Satan got Adam and Eve to believe, and this is how he got them to eat the fruit God had forbidden with a curse.  We still crave the forbidden fruit.  The curse still stands.  Satan is still the prince of this world.  And we are still doing his works.
     But Jesus came to overthrow Satan and his kingdom.  St. John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)  Jesus demonstrated his overthrow of Satan throughout his ministry.  As soon as Jesus was baptized, Satan tempted him in the wilderness.  Jesus overcame him every time.  The kingdom of God overcame the kingdom of the devil.  When Jesus came across demon-possessed men, he neither desired nor needed the confession of demons.  Therefore, Jesus commanded them to not testify that he is the Son of God.  The kingdom of God overruled the kingdom of the devil.  To free those who were possessed, Jesus exorcised the demons from them.  They had to submit to the divine commands of the Son of God.  The kingdom of God overran the kingdom of the devil. 
     Now, that proves that Jesus is divine and that his word has authority.  It proves that Jesus is stronger than the devil and that his rule will stand.  But you will only be comforted by this news if you know that Jesus’ might, authority, and rule are done for you.  If they are not, you are still in Satan’s kingdom.  You are still lost.  But Jesus has come not just to demonstrate superiority over the devil, but to free you from him.  And so we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” so that he will put down the devil’s kingdom.
     Jesus revealed that the kingdom of God had come by casting out devils from those who were possessed.  Jesus’ enemies accused him of being in league with the devil in order to deceive people.  Jesus highlighted the folly of their argument.  How does Satan gain an advantage by having demons cast out of people?  That means he has lost control.  But if it is the finger of God at work casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come.  And that is why Jesus had come: to put down the devil’s kingdom, to cast out Satan, and to rescue those who have been held captive by him.
     To do this, Jesus made an exchange.  He substituted himself for you.  He let Satan accuse, condemn and kill him.  He has taken up every accusation that Satan could level at anyone.  He suffered all the taunting and jeering and mockery that Satan’s offspring could hurl at him.  When Jesus stood on trial, he did not bother to refute any of the charges.  He let all accusations stick.  When he was mocked and taunted, Jesus offered no retort.  He refused none of your sin, but silently suffered in your place.  He willingly died under God’s curse for you.  This is how Satan tried to lay permanent claim to you – by killing off your Savior once and for all.
     Yes, Jesus was put to death – but not as a victim claimed by Satan.  Jesus was the innocent, sacrificial victim, the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world.  His condemnation means that all guilt has been taken from you.  His death means that all punishment has been removed from you.  The Lord has only blessing left for you.  Satan hoped to claim the whole world by taking Jesus.  But Jesus ended up atoning for the sins of the world by his death.  And then, not even death could hold him.  Jesus rose from the grave to claim you from Satan.  He has put out the kingdom of the devil and he has established his kingdom as your eternal refuge.
     Jesus’ kingdom has come, and he brought you into it when you were baptized.  On that day, the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, touched you and drove out the unclean spirit from you.  You have been cleansed of your sin, and the Holy Spirit dwells in its place.  That is why you flee from the practice of sinning.  You no longer crave what the Lord forbids, knowing that it means banishment and a curse and death.  But what God gives you freely and generously means blessing and life in his kingdom.
     You pray, “Thy kingdom come,” so that you have a faithful shepherd-King who instructs you, guides you, and protects you day after day.  And though you still succumb to temptation and fall into sin, your loving King corrects you and works repentance in you.  You despise yourself for your sins, for you do not want to be the devil’s lackey.  You are a child of God and you want to live like it.  And if you despise what is of the devil and love what is holy, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
     Jesus’ kingdom has come; for he has put down the devil’s kingdom.  Satan no longer owns you.  He does not control you.  His kingdom has been put down.  Now you dwell in God’s kingdom.  Oh, the devil will still scoff at you and try to torment you with doubt and guilt.  But do not fear him.  Do not give him a moment of your time.  Have you sinned?  Sure.  Acknowledge it.  And then tell Satan to ask Jesus what he has done with your sins.  And he will flee from you.  For, Jesus drives out the devil and all the fear, guilt, doubt, and afflictions he would bring to your soul.
     God’s kingdom has come to you, and the devil’s kingdom has been put down.  Now you are free to serve and to live without fear.  You don’t have to go about your life wondering if God is pleased with you or what it will take to make God pleased with you.  Jesus has set you free from such fears.  Jesus reigns; his word is supreme.  And he tells you that God is pleased with you.  He has delivered you into his kingdom so that you may dwell as his own in joy and peace now and for all eternity.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

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